Sheriff's deputies in Berkeley County say they've busted a ring of scrap-metal thieves responsible for stealing a ton of copper wire, tubing and other material.

Four people were arrested this week after an investigation into scrap metal thefts, the Sheriff's Office said in a news release issued Thursday.

Anthony Lyle Sweat, 19, of Royle Road, Ladson; Keith O'Brian Conklin, 17, of Midland Park Road, North Charleston; and Patricia Wesley Smith, 19, of Bacons Bridge Road, Summerville; are each charged with second-degree burglary and with unlawful possession/transport of nonferrrous metals, the release said.

Darren M. Avey, 28, of Fremont Drive, Summerville, is charged with unlawful possession/transport of nonferrous metals.

According to court records, Sweat and Conklin were being held in the Hill-Finklea Detention Center on bails of $60,445 and $20,445, respectively. Wesley was released on a personal recognizance bond, sheriff's spokesman Dan Moon said. Avey also posted bond and was released.

An ongoing investigation into metal thefts led to the suspects being arrested following a traffic stop Monday, the release said. During the stop, deputies found 555 pounds of copper wire, tubing and other copper material that had been stolen early Monday during a burglary at Low Country Recycling on North Main Street. Nearly 2,000 pounds of wire, tubing, and other copper materials were taken in that incident, Moon said.

The arrests come after an ongoing rash of scrap-metal thefts, including the March 21 theft of $4,000 worth of wire from an electric utility on Johns Island and the March 26 theft of $50,000 worth of copper wire from a Summerville electrical contractor.

Arrests were made in the Johns Island case. The Summerville Police Department is looking into the suspects that Berkeley deputies arrested in connection with scrap metal thefts in the town, police Capt. Jon Rogers said.

As scrap metal prices rise, thefts become more common. In the Lowcountry, thieves are stealing air conditioners from churches, catalytic converters from junkyards, and copper wire and tubing from construction sites.

The problem is not unique to South Carolina.

On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that will require sellers to show photo identification cards and buyers to set scrap metals aside for five days to allow police more time to track stolen metals.

In the S.C. Legislature, bills were introduced in the House in February and in the Senate in March that would make it tougher for thieves to sell scrap metal. Those bills are in committee.

At least two of the state's sheriffs, in Aiken and Colleton counties, are trying to curb scrap-metal thefts by issuing permits for transporting nonferrous metals weighing more than 25 pounds. There is no charge for the permits.

According to state law, nonferrous metals mean metals that do no contain significant quantities of iron or steel. Metals described for the purposes of the law are copper wire, copper-clad steel wire, copper pipe, copper bars, copper sheeting, aluminum, a product that is a mixture of aluminum and copper, catalytic converters and stainless steel bar kegs or containers.

Reach David W. Mac- Dougall at 937-5655.